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The world's first commercial electric power facility—the Pearl Street Station in New York City—began service in 1882 with a modest load of approximately 400 lamps, each taking about 83 watts and constituting and electric demand of 33 kilowatts. Today the electric power industry faces an unprecedented demand for electric energy and an undiminished future growth. The book begins by tracing the development of U.S. public power to "its present strong minority position (23%)" over a period of half a century, and discusses the organization of electric power supply in England, France, Mexico, Russia, Italy, and Sweden. The technical competence and performance of public and private power are then examined, and the performance of power systems under different social organizations set up to protect the national interest is analyzed. The book concludes by indicating specific problems that will be faced in the future by the utilities industry.
One of the book's principal concerns is to cut through the myths that have long surrounded public power—the mistaken linking of "public power" with "the public interest," and the serious limitations that are placed on initiative and imagination in this sector. Mr. Sporn's analysis of capital and tax costs is particularly explosive and suggests a more rational means of measuring true costs than has been available up to now.
While the book makes a strong case for continuation of private ownership and management of power supply facilities, it also indicates the past and present failings of private power. What the utility industry sorely needs, Mr. Sporn concludes, is better, more creative and responsive management: "Too many of the managers of our utility enterprise have been raised by and large in a background of law, or accounting, or economics. Technical imagination is not part of their training. Social responsibility and ethics are more or less foreign concepts—at least they would be treated as improper for integration into the management decision process." While no single form of social organization can "magically eliminate" all the problems of the electric power industry, Mr. Sporn points hopefully to the Swedish system which has successfully integrated both private and public power, keeping alive "ethical and real competition" between the sectors.